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Prunus virginiana

prunus virginiana, prunus virginiana canada red
Prunus virginiana, commonly called bitter-berry,3 chokecherry,3 Virginia bird cherry3 and western chokecherry3 also black chokecherry for P virginiana var demissa3, is a species of bird cherry Prunus subgenus Padus native to North America; the natural historic range of P virginiana includes most of Canada including Northwest Territories but excluding Yukon, Nunavut, and Labrador, most of the United States including Alaska but excluding some states in the Southeast and northern Mexico Sonora, Chihuahua, Baja California, Durango, Zacatecas, Coahuila and Nuevo León456


  • 1 Description
  • 2 Characteristics
  • 3 Food use
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


Chokecherry is a suckering shrub or small tree growing to 49 m 16 ft 1 in tall The leaves are oval, 32–102 cm 1 1⁄4–4 1⁄32 in long, with a coarsely serrated margin The flowers are produced in racemes 381–762 cm 15–30 in long in late spring well after leaf emergence The fruits are about 1 cm 3⁄8 in in diameter, range in color from bright red to black, and possess a very astringent taste, being both somewhat sour and somewhat bitter The very ripe "berries" actually drupes are dark in color and less astringent and sweeter than when red and unripe6


Chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, such as anthocyanins They share this property with chokeberries, further contributing to confusion6

  • Prunus virginiana var virginiana the eastern chokecherry
  • Prunus virginiana var demissa Nutt ex Torr & AGray Torr the western chokecherry
  • Prunus virginiana var melanocarpa ANelson Sarg
Chokecherry – habit

The wild chokecherry is often considered a pest, as it is a host for the tent caterpillar, a threat to other fruit plants However, there are more appreciated cultivars of the chokecherry, such as 'Goertz', which has a nonastringent, and therefore palatable, fruit Research at the University of Saskatchewan seeks to find and create new cultivars to increase production and processing

Leaf of Saskatchewan plant

The chokecherry is closely related to the black cherry Prunus serotina of eastern North America; it is most readily distinguished from that by its smaller size black cherry trees can reach 100 feet tall, smaller leaves, and sometimes red ripe fruit The chokecherry leaf has a finely serrated margin and is dark green above with a paler underside, while the black cherry leaf has numerous blunt edges along its margin and is dark green and smooth69

The name chokecherry is also used for the related Manchurian cherry or Amur chokecherry Prunus maackii

Food useedit

For many Native American tribes of the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, and boreal forest region of Canada and the United States, chokecherries were the most important fruit in their diets The bark of chokecherry root was once made into an asperous-textured concoction used to ward off or treat colds, fever and stomach maladies by native Americans10 The inner bark of the chokecherry, as well as red osier dogwood, or alder, was also used by natives in their smoking mixtures, known as kinnikinnick, to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf11 The chokecherry fruit can be used to make a jam, jelly, or syrup, but the bitter nature of the fruit requires sugar to sweeten the preserves1213

Chokecherry is toxic to horses, moose, cattle, goats, deer, and other animals with segmented stomachs rumens, especially after the leaves have wilted such as after a frost or after branches have been broken because wilting releases cyanide and makes the plant sweet About 10–20 lbs of foliage can be fatal Symptoms of a horse that has been poisoned include heavy breathing, agitation, and weakness The leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillars of various Lepidoptera12 See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus

In 2007, Governor John Hoeven signed a bill naming the chokecherry the official fruit of the state of North Dakota, in part because its remains have been found at more archeological sites in the Dakotas than anywhere else1214

Chokecherry is also used to craft wine in the western United States mainly in the Dakotas and Utah as well as in Manitoba, Canada12

Autumn foliage

See alsoedit

  • Choke pear


  1. ^ Rehder, A 1940, reprinted 1977 Manual of cultivated trees and shrubs hardy in North America exclusive of the subtropical and warmer temperate regions Macmillan publishing Co, Inc, New York
  2. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species" Retrieved January 27, 2014 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Prunus virginiana" Germplasm Resources Information Network GRIN Agricultural Research Service ARS, United States Department of Agriculture USDA Retrieved February 28, 2013 
  4. ^ Biota of North America Program 25014 state-level distribution map
  5. ^ SEINet, Southwestern Biodiversity, Arizona chapter photos, partial distribution map
  6. ^ a b c d "Prunus virginiana" Flora of North America FNA Missouri Botanical Garden – via eFlorasorg 
  7. ^ Farrar, JL 1995 Trees in Canada Canadian Forest Service and Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited, Markham
  8. ^ The Plant List, Prunus virginiana L
  9. ^ Edible Wild Plants A North American Field Guide, Thomas S Elias, Peter A Dykeman, Sterling Publishing Company Inc, New York, NY, 1990 ISBN 0-8069-7488-5
  10. ^ pg 81, Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes 6th edition, Norman F Smith, Thunder Bay Press, 2002
  11. ^ Staff 2009 "Bearberry" Discovering Lewis and Clark The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation
  12. ^ a b c d Michigan State University Extension Information Management Program
  13. ^ Gibbons, Euell 1962 Stalking the Wild Asparagus David McKay, New York
  14. ^ Kindscher, K 1987 Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide

External linksedit

  • Health Alicious Ness, Nutrition Facts for Chokecherries
  • North Dakota State University Agriculture, Chokecherry

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Prunus virginiana

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